Leftfielder Kipp Schutz kept Aberdeen’s win streak alive, pushing it to five games in another signature ballgame, with a walk-off grand slam off Joan Belliard to give Aberdeen a 9-5 victory on Tuesday night. The walk-off is Aberdeen’s third walk-off win in the team’s last four home games, and the team’s second walk-off grand slam this month after centerfielder Trent Mummey’s against Auburn on July 11.
“It’s crazy. I’ve never been on a team where that’s happened,” Schutz said. “This season we’ve had a lot of walk-off wins actually. It’s nice. It’s always fun to go out there to the plate and congratulate someone after the win.”
Entering the 11th inning tied at 5-5, catcher Joe Oliveira got on base after being hit by a pitch from Belliard. Then shortstop Michael Rooney sacrificed him to second before Mummey was issued his second intentional walk of the ballgame. Second baseman Austin Knight drew a walk to load the bases and first baseman David Anderson popped out to put two outs on the board. Then Schutz stepped up and hit a towering fly ball over the Aberdeen bullpen in left field.
“I don’t think I’ve ever hit a walk-off home run before. That’s a great feeling though, having all your teammates there waiting to celebrate,” Schutz said.
“It’s been quite a ride with this team lately,” pitching coach Scott McGregor said. “They’ve really found themselves a nice little groove. They’ve been playing good ball, doing the little things like getting the bunts down and getting people over. The whole game I’m just thinking, ‘When are going to win this?’ It’s a nice feeling.”
“I was just looking to hit something hard,” Schutz said. “I knew I was going to get a pitch because he didn’t want to throw one in the dirt or walk me to win the game so I knew I could get a good pitch to hit. Luckily, I was able to hit it pretty well.”
First baseman Brandon Snyder, on rehab from Triple-A Norfolk, lined a Brandt Walker pitch over the left field wall to tie the game 5-5 in the top of the eighth inning to set Aberdeen up for another tight finish.
Tri-City had its own heroics in the top of the seventh in an attempt to snap Aberdeen’s four-game winning streak.
IronBirds reliever Ashur Tolliver entered the game with a 4-2 lead, but promptly walked the leadoff batter, designated hitter Daniel Adamson. Tolliver got first baseman Nick Stanley to strike out and leftfielder Frank Almonte to popout to second base, but ran into more trouble, walking shortstop Jacke Healey to put runners on first and second. Then centerfielder Wilton Infante singled to right field, scoring Adamson and advancing Healey to third before advancing to second himself. Then third baseman Ben Orloff singled into left field, scoring both Healey and Infante and giving Tri-City a 5-4 lead.
Tolliver struggled for the evening, giving up three runs on two hits and three walks over two innings of work. Tolliver’s ERA for the year is 6.75.
“He’s one of those kids that’s got a good fastball and where he’s been in the past he can just pound the fastball right by people,” McGregor said. “He’s developed a nice change up and his slider’s getting better, but when he mixes it up, his fastball is good.”
Aberdeen got on the board quickly in the bottom of the first with a 1-0 lead. Snyder hit a two-out double to deep center field off Bobby Doran and then scored on Schutz’s single to left field.
Tri-City responded in the third inning after a scoreless second frame. Orloff drew a one-out walk off Scott Copeland and advanced to second on a fielder’s choice by second baseman Kike Hernandez. During catcher Michael Kvasnicka’s at bat, Orloff stole third and Oliveira’s throw sailed over third basman Adam Gaylord’s head into left field, allowing Orloff to score and tie the game at 1-1.
The IronBirds were able to respond quickly in the bottom of the inning off Doran. Shortstop Michael Rooney led off the inning with an infield single and then scored on second baseman Austin Knight’s triple to center field to give Aberdeen a 2-1 advantage. Then Snyder grounded out to shortstop, allowing Knight to score from third and giving the IronBirds a 3-1 cushion.
Aberdeen increased the lead to 4-1 in the bottom of the fourth. Gaylord led off the inning with a single to left field. After designated hitter Michael Flacco flied out to center field, rightfielder Jeremy Nowak laced a single past first base to send Gaylord to third, and then Gaylord scored on a sacrifice fly by Oliveira.
Healey pulled a Copeland pitch over the left field wall in the top of the fifth to trim Aberdeen’s lead to 4-2.
For the night, Schutz was 3-for-6 with a home run, run scored, and five RBIs. He raised his batting average to .385.
“I’m seeing the ball pretty well,” he said. “This game’s humbling so once you start talking about how well you’re doing is whenever you start doing terrible. I’m just trying to come in every day and do the same thing. It’s been working out for me so far so hopefully it continues.”
This was Snyder’s first action coming back from a back injury. He went 2-for-5 with a double, home run, two runs scored, and two RBIs. He is expecting to play two more games at Aberdeen before going back to Norfolk.
“I felt good,” he said. “It feels awesome to finally get to play. I’ve been getting way too good at coaching first base. It’s just nice to come back and play with a bunch of guys with a lot of energy and get to contribute.”
Snyder feels like Aberdeen is a great environment to get back into playing shape.
“I heard that they’re on a pretty good little streak and I’d heard they’d been winning some games late,” he said. “I think the first thing you notice is the energy the guys have. A lot of the younger guys, they’re all excited about being here and playing and it’s just fun to be a part of that again. It’s a great, great group of guys and it’s just a lot of fun to play with them.”
Copeland had his best outing of the season, pitching six strong innings and giving up two runs (one earned). Copeland allowed three hits and two walks and struck out one. After Tolliver’s two innings, Steven Mazur, called up last week from Bluefield, threw two scoreless innings of his own, surrendering two hits and a walk. Jason Gurka (2-2, 3.66) earned the win by pitching the top of the 11th.
“It’s coming together nice,” McGregor said. “That’s what I like about this league. It seems like every year I’ve been here, the first month you kind of figure things out and once everybody lands on their feet you find something and you have some fun the last part of the season, and that’s what’s kind of going on now.”
For the night, Doran pitched five innings for the ValleyCats, giving up four runs on seven hits while striking out four batters as well. Tri-City used a bevy of relievers in finishing out the game. Jason Chowning and Adam Champion combined for three scoreless innings before Walker gave up Snyder’s game-tying home run. Belliard (1-2, 5.49) pitched 1.2 innings, giving up two hits and two walks and allowing the four winning runs to score.
IronBirds manager Gary Kendall was not available for comment due to a family emergency. He is expected to take a few days off and no date is set for his return.
Wednesday night the IronBirds (17-15) take on Tri-City (12-19) again with Tyler Sexton (1-2, 8.74) taking the mound against David Martinez (2-1, 3.12). First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.